Ex-principal took money from Fernandina Beach High School
UPDATED TUESDAY, MARCH 6, 2018
Details surrounding the abrupt resignation of Dr. Spencer Lodree from his position as principal at Fernandina Beach High School began to emerge last week.
Nassau County School District Superintendent Dr. Kathy Burns issued a statement at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, March 2, indicating that Lodree had stolen funds from ticket sales to a Jan. 26 boys’ basketball game between Fernandina Beach and Yulee that occurred at FBHS.
According to a report by the Fernandina Beach Police Department, which investigated the incident, the theft involved more than $1,300 in cash, but Burns “was not interested in pursuing criminal charges against Dr. Lodree.”
School Board Chairman Donna Martin told the News-Leader that board members supported Burns in her decision. “Dr. Burns came to the board with his resignation after she had talked to the state’s attorney,” Martin said. “It has been reported to the Florida Department of Education’s Office of Professional Practices, so it did not end with us.”
“Dr. Burns was running that component of it,” School Board member Jamie Deonas said of the legal case against Lodree. “When the State’s Attorney said she wasn’t going to pursue it, that’s kind of where it went. The powers that be said they didn’t want to take it any further.”
Several days after the game between the county rivals, school officials discovered what they initially believed to be an estimated $1,500 missing from ticket sales for the game, according to the report.
FBHS Athletic Director Mary Walker reported the incident to the school’s resource officer, Brian Evatt, who subsequently contacted the Fernandina Beach Police Department. Deputy Chief Mark Foxworth took over the investigation “because high ranking school officials were potential suspects,” according to the FBPD report.
Walker told Foxworth that the gate for the night should have been approximately $2,400 based on ticket stubs, but that multiple recounts of the money came to $1,104, leaving a discrepancy of about $1,300, Foxworth stated in his report.
“I asked (Walker) the procedure for gaining admission to the game and she recounted that a patron would pay five dollars for admission and a cashier would provide the patron with part of a ticket while keeping the other part for accounting purposes. She advised that her main cashier is Betty Little and that Betty was working on the night in question. Walker explained that once the money is taken it is placed in a metal cash box. She said that if the box starts to get full, the cashier will ask a school administrator to take the money and place it in a vault (in the high school office),” Foxworth reported.
The police report says that, on the night of Jan. 26, Lodree “came into the gym lobby where tickets were being sold at approximately (7:15 p.m.). He said that a short time later, Dr. Lodree spoke to the ticket seller, Betty Little, and initiated a money drop. (School Resource Officer Brian) Evatt advised that Dr. Lodree took possession of the money bags and they then drove to the main office in his police vehicle.”
However, just over an hour later, Lodree can be seen via a video surveillance recording “leaving the gymnasium and walking across the campus to the main office area. He is then observed entering a rear entrance to his office and at (8:41 p.m.) a flashlight beam is seen in the room which contains the vault. A short time later the flashlight is seen again and shines on the lower part of the subject holding the light. The pants, shoes and visible areas of the socks are consistent with the clothing worn by Dr. Lodree. At (8:43 p.m.), Dr. Lodree is observed leaving the building through the rear entrance,” according to Foxworth.
According to Burns’ statement, Lodree was unavailable to speak with Foxworth the remainder of the week after calling in sick.
In an interview on Feb. 5 at the Fernandina Beach Police Department, Lodree admitted to taking the money “because he was having financial hardships and his daughter’s college tuition was due.”
Court records in Clay County, where Lodree lives, show that he and his wife were foreclosed upon late last year by their
homeowners’ association for failure to pay their HOA dues since 2014. The amount owed by Lodree in the case is approximately $1,500, according to an exhibit filed with the lawsuit.
Lodree told Foxworth during his interview that he estimated the total amount of money he had taken was approximately $600.
The Fernandina Beach Police Department contacted Assistant State Attorney Donna Thurson about prosecuting the case, but in light of Burns’ refusal to press charges, she “advised that her office would not be interested in pursuing prosecution,” according to Foxworth’s report.
Calls to Lodree and Nassau County School Board members for comment were not immediately returned.
In her statement, Burns says that the money Lodree took was deducted from his final paycheck.
The sudden resignation of Lodree on Monday, Feb. 5 surprised many in the community as well as the Nassau County School Board.
The school district’s chief of legal services, Ray Poole, told the News-Leader that Lodree tendered his resignation that afternoon, effective immediately.
Burns met with the school’s faculty that day to break the news.
Lodree declined to give details about his reason for leaving his position, but wrote in an email to the News-Leader that “the decision to resign was a difficult one and a decision that needed to be made due to family and personal reasons.”
“I wish Dr. Burns and Fernandina Beach High School much continued success in the days months and years to come.”
Lodree called the Nassau County School District “a great institution.”
“I’d like to give my thanks to Dr. Burns and to Dr. Ruis for providing me with an awesome opportunity to learn and grow as an educational leader,” Lodree said.
Lodree said after his resignation that he planned to continue his career in education in Florida.
“My goal is to provide my leadership experience in an urban setting in a community that is closer to my home,” Lodree wrote in his email to the News-Leader.
Lodree began his career in Florida as a fifth-grade teacher at Wayman Academy of Arts, a charter school in Duval County. He has taught mathematics to students in grades five through nine and was also an instructional mathematics coach.
Lodree had been with the Nassau County School District since 2009, serving as assistant principal of curriculum at FBHS until he was named principal there in December 2014.